What do you do when
your jewelry designs are copied?
by Rena Klingenberg.
Copycats and “knockoff artists” are the bane of jewelry artists’ existence.
When we’ve poured our creativity and effort into a unique, original design and then discover that someone else has not only copied our design but is trying to sell their copies of it – we feel doubly ripped off and violated.
It’s an unpleasant shock to see knockoffs of your jewelry designs. You may stumble across copies of your work at art shows, online, or even in a major department store.
Jewelry Designer Charli Knight Recalls:
“When I was in school I would design original jewelry pieces and put them on consignment in a craft gallery in Seattle to help subsidize my education.
On a couple of occasions I was shocked to find an outright copy (I mean down to the tiniest detail) of my designs reproduced and selling at Nordstrom’s!”
Jewelry Artist Christine from New York
Shares Her Experience with Copycats:
“To sell or not to sell? That’s really my question regarding other jewelry artists whose intentions aren’t just to “buy a piece that differs from their own work”.
Perhaps others have experienced this too, but in the many shows I’ve been attending as a vendor there’s been an increasing amount of “unartistic artists”, who go from booth to booth looking to leech ideas and techniques.
People say “imitation is the best form of flattery” – but not when I have to see a copy of my hard work on display at the jewelry booth adjacent to mine, copied by a vendor who saw or purchased my jewelry at a previous show!
I’m not by nature a rude person, nor am I prone to shoo away anyone from my booth, but there has to be a balance in handling these situations.
It’s gotten to the point where I’ve had other jewelry artists actually come up and ask “What stitch is that? That style would look great with my collection.” Or they tell their partner, “We can make that and sell it for half the price,” while pointing at one of my pieces.
How do I handle these sort of people? Is there a way to remain diplomatic, and at the same time get my point across that I don’t appreciate what they are doing? I’d hate to say something that would cause hard feelings between myself and another vendor who I’ll eventually see at another local show.
Furthermore, is it common to refuse a sale to a person who has knocked off your work before? I know I’d hate to be accused of stealing someone’s idea, but if the imitation was blatant, would that be rude?
I’d really appreciate any suggestions, or hear how others have handled situations like this.”
(Christine, in a question emailed to Rena)
The Karma of Copying
Although copycats are everywhere, I’ve noticed that they’re rarely successful. They tend to be in search of a quick buck, stealing one product idea after another as they try to follow trends.
And although their knockoff pieces are usually lower priced in an attempt to undersell the original jewelry – their pieces are nearly always lower quality too.
In addition, copies and imitations lack the spark that draws people to the original piece.
Jewelry Artist Lorianne Jantti
Says of Copied Artworks:
“While things may basically look or be the same, in essence it’s the person who conceives them from their heart and soul, that radiates through them….
I feel very sorry when I see others try to copy them. Although I may not know some of these artists personally, I can see clearly when someone’s copying them.
True soul expressions radiate through those who conceived them and not through those who copy them.”
So whether it’s because of their lazy approach to “creating” a product line, or because their copies are missing the spark of the original work (or because Karma catches up with them!) – knockoff “artists” are seldom able to build a clientele and grow a successful business.
And because copycats’ intention is usually to make money without much effort, they don’t tend to stay in your market very long. Any new knockoff artists who show up to take their place will wind up disappearing as well.
Keeping Ahead of the Copycats
That’s why many seasoned jewelry artists choose to beat the copycats by ignoring them.
They stay ahead of knockoff artists by focusing on:
- Continually creating and promoting new jewelry designs.
- Using unique or hard-to-find jewelry supplies that make their work difficult to copy.
- Constantly learning new techniques to incorporate into their work.
- Creating designs that require specialized tools or equipment.
Jewelry Artist Marnie Greenwood Says:
“My designs change so frequently, that by the time they’re starting to knock me off, I’m on to the next thing…. If you get caught up reacting to everybody who’s knocking you off, you’ll never move forward to the next design that they’re going to knock off.”
Marnie Greenwood in Wendy Grossman’s article “How to Deal with Knockoffs: Flattery or Flat-out Theft?”
Charli Knight, Who Saw Knockoffs
of Her Designs in Nordstrom’s, Agrees:
“I do understand a jeweler’s desire to protect their designs from being copied and ultimately reproduced, as this is their livelihood, but the reality is that a good designer is ALWAYS redesigning / recreating and should always be one step ahead of the uncreative copiers of the world.
I learned that to be a successful craftsperson does not mean hiding your sources or copyrighting every design, it means constant evolution and attention to detail.
I found that the copies in the store lacked the care I had put into my original design (i.e., picking nicer beads, clean and precise turned wire, proper tension on string, etc.).”
(Charli Knight, in her article Lessons Learned in the World of Designing Jewelry)
So copycats are at a disadvantage because their products aren’t fresh or original, and tend to be lower quality. Shoppers have already seen the original well-made version in your booth at the last show.
And while ripoff artists are trying to hawk copies of your old designs, you’ve got a fresh crop of unique jewelry for people to see, combining a brand new selection of unusual supplies with a new jewelry making technique you’ve learned.
So which of you is going to attract more shoppers?
I’d bet on the original jewelry artist every time.